On the evening of April 8, several officers from the Durham Police Department’s HEAT (High Enforcement Abatement Team) unit arrived at a residence at 3417 Misty Pine Avenue, in Durham’s Bragtown neighborhood. They were there, DPD later stated, to conduct a “knock-and-talk,” an investigative technique performed by police when criminal activity is suspected but there is not enough evidence to obtain a search warrant.
Khadir Cherry, a resident of the home, had been arrested four days previously for selling marijuana. Immediately upon arriving at the residence, an officer with the HEAT unit, J.M. Foster, stated that he smelled marijuana. The HEAT officers then entered the home. A volatile scene ensued, much of which was captured on cellphone video.
Cherry was struck repeatedly with a baton, and another person in the home, Raynell Hall, was tased. Others, including the home’s owner, Vera McGriff, were thrown on the floor and handcuffed. Officers found only a small amount of marijuana and paraphernalia in the home.
The DPD said the HEAT unit’s use of force was a reaction to events not captured on the video. Wil Glenn, DPD spokesman, told the INDY at the time that Cherry tried to grab an officer’s weapon and refused to obey lawful orders, and that Hall struck an officer on the shoulder.
Several charges were filed following the incident. Cherry was arrested and charged with two counts of possession with intent to manufacture, sell and/or distribute; maintaining a dwelling; two counts of assault on a government official; resisting a public officer; and possession of marijuana paraphernalia.
Hall was charged with assault on a government official and resisting a public officer. Another person in the home, Jahmon Cedeno, was arrested and charged with assault on a government official. McGriff, the homeowner and an Iraq war veteran, was charged with maintaining a dwelling and resisting a public officer.
The only ones in the home not charged were McGriff’s children, a ten-year-old daughter and an eleven-year-old son, who witnessed what McGriff calls “an unforgettable assault.”
Last week, all charges were formally dismissed against everyone in 3417 Misty Pine Avenue that night.
McGriff tells the INDY the situation is “bittersweet.” She says she’s received no apology from anyone at the Durham Police Department regarding the incident.
“It appears that the Durham Police Department think if the charges are dropped then my family will just say ‘Thank you,’ celebrate, and forget what those officers had done to us,” McGriff says. “I’m not going to sit back and let what they done to my family happen this way.”
As the INDY reported at the time, city manager Tom Bonfield requested an expedited formal review of the incident by the DPD’s internal affairs division. The findings of that report are not a matter of public record, but Glenn, the DPD spokesman, confirms that Officer J.M. Foster is no longer with the DPD.
“The incident remains under investigation,” Glenn says.
Earlier this year, an independent study—commissioned by the DPD itself—found patterns of racial profiling in the HEAT unit.